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On June 23, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an internal agency reorganization and the creation of a new office intended to help reduce provider burden. The change was announced with a CMS press release titled, “CMS Unveils Major Organizational Change to Reduce Provider and Clinician Burden and Improve Patient Outcomes.”  

While it remains unclear what impact the creation of this new office will have, it clearly signals that reducing provider burden is one of agency’s top policy and political priorities. As such, the staff leadership and work focus of this office will be important for physicians and other heavily regulated healthcare stakeholders to understand.

What is this new office and how will it focus on burden reduction? 

The new office is an outgrowth of the agency’s Patients over Paperwork Initiative, which is the cornerstone of CMS’s efforts under the Trump Administration to eliminate duplicative, unnecessary, and excessively costly requirements and regulations. According to CMS, “this announcement permanently embeds a culture of burden reduction across all platforms of CMS agency operations.”  

CMS launched Patients over Paperwork in 2017 and a big part of that initiative has been stakeholder outreach, with CMS gathering feedback from over 2,500 providers, clinicians, administrative staff, and beneficiaries through 158 site visits and listening sessions the past few years. The new office is expected to expand these stakeholder outreach efforts by increasing “the number of clinicians, providers, and health plans the Agency engages, to ensure that CMS has a better understanding of how various regulatory burdens impact healthcare delivery.” CMS is hopeful that these efforts will enable a more proactive approach to reducing burden, with the agency carefully considering the impact of new regulations on the industry through this enhanced stakeholder feedback process. 

How will the office focus on health informatics?

Beyond burden reduction, the other main area of focus for the office will be health informatics. According to CMS, health informatics is critically important because it “uses and applies health data and clinical information to provide better healthcare to patients.” Health data interoperability will be a top priority within this portfolio, as this office will likely assume responsibility for the ongoing implementation of CMS’s Interoperability and Patient Access final rule that was issued in March.  

The press release also noted that the office will, “work with the broader healthcare community to continue to make key administrative processes increasingly more efficient.”  This could include work on documentation and coding requirements, prior authorization, and other time-consuming processes CMS has acknowledged are long overdue for reforms.  

What should industry stakeholders know about the office?

This CMS announcement clearly signals that reducing provider burden is one of agency’s top priorities, but it is unclear what impact this reorganization and new office will have. We can assume that because this office will have a role to play in developing and approving provider burden and health data interoperability policies, the yet to be named leader of this office and the ultimate focus of its work will be important for industry stakeholders to understand. Also, with its focus on increasing stakeholder outreach and engaging the industry in proactively shaping policy proposals, this office could create new opportunities for the industry to shape future CMS policies.  

However, despite this commitment to reducing regulations, CMS is ultimately in the business of issuing regulations and we are currently in the middle of its 2021 rulemaking season. In the coming weeks, CMS will issue thousands of pages of new regulatory proposals that will impact the Medicare program next year. Ultimately, the content of those proposals will likely say more about CMS’s burden reduction efforts than this announcement. But at least now, if these efforts do create new burdens for physicians, we know which office to call.

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Chris Emper

Government Affairs Advisor, NextGen Healthcare

Chris Emper, JD, MBA, is government affairs advisor at NextGen Healthcare and president of Emper Healthcare Advisors—a health IT industry advisory and consulting services firm in Washington, D.C. that specializes in helping healthcare providers and technology companies successfully navigate and comply with complex regulations and value-based reimbursement models. Prior to forming Emper Healthcare Advisors in 2016, Chris was vice president of Government Affairs at NextGen Healthcare (NASDAQ: NXGN) and Chair of the Electronic Health Record Association (EHRA) Public Policy committee.

An expert in The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and The 21st Century Cures Act, Chris is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and has written or appeared in articles in publications such as Politico, Health Data Management, Accountable Care News, and Medical Economics. From 2016-2019, Chris served as Chair of the HIMSS Government Relations Roundtable, a leading coalition of health IT government affairs professionals.

Prior to joining NextGen Healthcare in 2013, Chris served as a Domestic Policy Advisor for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential Campaign, where he advised the campaign on policy issues including healthcare, technology, and innovation. He holds a law degree and an MBA from Villanova University and a BA from Boston College.